Isaac Adongo writes on Trading West Blue/GCNet System for Ghana Link/UNIPASS: Why dump the Best for the Worst?
For decades, Ghana has been at the forefront of leading innovations in trade facilitations in the subregion. Those innovations came after series of dialogue, research, feasibility studies and surveys that identified lapses in the system and sought credible mechanisms to reverse their impact on trade flows and the bottlenecks to revenue generation. The successful deployment of these initiatives have not only helped to minimise inefficiencies and improved revenue generations in Ghana’s twin ports, they have enhanced Ghana’s image as a destination of choice for traders in West Africa.
Combined with other initiatives by other stakeholders in the sector, these measures have ensured that trade flows into and through the ports have enjoyed strong growth (until recently), resulting in more revenues generated for the state. In the business sense, these initiatives have also helped to position Ghana’s economy in an attractive light as positive scores in trade facilitation brightens a country’s chances of clinching a better spot in the World Bank’s enviable table of Ease of Doing Business.
The institutions at the forefront of these achievements have been the Ghana Community Services Network (GCNET), which started operations in 2002, and the West Blue Consulting Ltd, which started operations in 2015.
IMPACT ON REVENUES
In 2015, the solutions of the two firms were combined to provide an integrated end-to-end processing platform to deliver the Ghana National Single Window (GNSW), the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) and its Trade Facilitation Single Window Platform (TFP) -components to meet ISO 9000 and 27000 certification standards. The integration proved successful, resulting in government revenues consistently rising (except in 2019 when government reduced benchmark values at the ports) to the admiration of all governments.
The data shows that customs revenue generated through the system rose from GHC7.5 billion in 2015 to about GHC13.2 billion in 2018. This represented an accumulated growth in customs revenues between 2015 and 2018 of about 76%.
Unsurprisingly, the system the two companies have put together has not had any system breaches since its inception. Indeed, the system’s robustness in the midst of expanded port operations has been remarkable as evidenced through the increased revenues delivered year-in-year-out.
In spite of these outstanding performances, GCNET and West Blue whose contracts are due to expire at the end of 2023 and 2020, respectively, are paid a combined fee of 0.54% of Free on Board (FOB) i.e. taking into consideration government’s 35% shares in GCNET.
Now, after these years of sustained innovations, deliberate investments and visible improvements in the gains, the country is readying itself to throw away its best trade facilitation service providers for a company that neither has a track record nor a concrete, a defined, a professed or a self-procured system to work with. The Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government is ready to abandon the tried and tested system that the GCNet and the West Blue built for the country for something neither the government nor its promoters have been able to say makes it worth the consideration, talk less of being superior to what we already have in place. They have set in motion a clandestine move to abandon the best for the worst and turnaround and give the best’s platform to the worst to transact business.
WHERE IS GHANA LINK/UNIPASS’S SYSTEM?
What is incredulous but speaks to the diabolism associated with the government’s decision to sacrifice the best for the worst is that neither the government nor the Ghana Link/UNIPASS have been able to show Ghanaians the system that they are coming to use to execute the questionable contract that the government sole-sourced to them.
The GCNET/West Blue system has been audited by both local and international agencies and has been acclaimed globally for its robustness and efficiency. The system has received some of the highest ISO certification for this as well as several local and international awards. West Blue for instance has won some of the most recognised national and international awards, including the World Customs Organisation’s International Best Practice Award, the National Information Technology Development e-Governance Award 2015, the Anas Aremeyaw Anas Transparency Award at the 2017 Ghana Shippers Awards and the Best Technology and Innovative Award at the 2017 Ghana Maritime and Shippers Award.
In the case of the Ghana Link/UNIPASS, they have no proper track record in the business and no verifiable superior systems that they are ready to deploy in Ghana or that they have deployed elsewhere. And that is a challenge I am throwing to both the government and the Ghana Link/UNIPASS cohorts to show to Ghanaians their system, where and how it was deployed and the track record in superiority. While at it, let me state that the closest anyone can affiliate Ghana Link to port services delivery is through its subsidiary, Africa Link Inspections Company Ltd (ALIC) in Sierra Leone. Information available indicate that ALIC was contracted by Sierra Leone to deliver an end-to-end system in 2012.
However, as at January, 2020 when their contract was being terminated, they were yet to deliver a single project. The Company was found not only to have failed to implement important and vital components of their contract, but also to have in connivance with their parent company, Ghana Link, allegedly, manipulated financial records for tax evasion purposes. Again, the Sierra Leonean Authorities also found that ALIC had allegedly failed to pay taxes to the tune of Le45 billion. As a result, the government initiated steps for the abrogation of their contract with the company. Yet, this is the company thr Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government has sole-sourced our trade facilitation project to. But that is not even all.
In Ghana also, Ghana Link’s earlier scanning and valuation service was noted to be poor. I, therefore, dare the government and Ghana Link/UNIPASS to provide evidence of their activities that make them a better service provider and a better option to the existing robust end-to-end system that Ghana currently runs with GCNET and Wes Blue Consulting.
The confusion that ensued at the ports when the government decided to push out the tried and tested GCNet/West Blue Consulting system and bring in Ghana Link/UNIPASS who have no system, to start with, speaks volumes. There is no gainsaying that that confusion will only swell and blossom into huge losses in government revenues at the ports in the unlikely event that the government carries through with its dubious plan.
THE HIDDEN AGENDA
In spite of these negative factors, our government led by President Akufo-Addo has decided to replace companies that have been delivering improved services and revenues; companies that are acclaimed globally for their capacity and transparency (as shown by the awards mentioned earlier), with a company that has been found not only to be incompetent and incapable of delivering a Single Window system, but also allegedly, very corrupt.
The only reason this can happen is when there are ulterior motives. Some of these are;
Why will any government replace a cheaper system that is delivering its mandate with a more expensive one that is unproven to be superior?
As noted earlier, the combined fees paid to GCNET and West Blue for their services is 0.54% of FOB. With this Ghana Link/UNIPASS deal, government of Ghana has decided, for whatever reason, to pay 0.75% of FOB.
This was after granting Ghana Link duty- and tax-free importation of their inputs (which GCNET and West Blue do not enjoy).
Who is ripping Ghanaian importers of the 0.21% FOB? Why will any responsible Government not motivated by greed and corruption charge its citizens more for poor and untested system that simple due diligence in Sierra Leon shows is unworkablr?
The question to President Akufo-Addo is; what specific addition is Ghana Link/UNIPASS bringing on to warrant the extra 0.21% of FOB? Why is government providing Ghana Link with inordinately higher fees for a service that is being provided at a lower cost? Ghanaians want to know why they will be paying more for this unproven system. This is why I cannot resist the termination to state that this project is beginning to lend itself to somebody’s pension project where everything must be done to ensure that it is successfully through to deliver the needed kickbacks for that person when the NPP exits power in January 2021.
But that is nationwrecking. It is sacrificing a collective and national good for an individual’s selfish and heartless gains. That is why the continuous push of this project makes it obvious that the Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government is recklessly trying to erode the gains that successive governments have made in trade facilitation in Ghana. This GCNET/Wes Blue concept is one of the only projects that each government in the Forth Republic has built upon. The Akufo-Addo government will be the only one to depart from this. And strangely, they are doing so, so recklessly that the potential of saddling the country with substantial judgment debt couldn’t be higher. My believe is that the puppet masters pulling the strings for this transaction could only be motivated by what they stand to gain privately. Those people must be reminded that dawn is on the horizon and they will answer.